Belfast Telegraph

Fionola Meredith: Jokes about Primark fire fall flat in the face of losses to staff and shoppers

Stop the snobbish sneering on social media, writes Fionola Meredith - there are livelihoods at stake here

What a hoot, Primark has burned down. As firefighters desperately tried to save the grand old building, local wags and lame-brains with nothing better to do rushed to social media to begin crafting their "hilarious" quips about the blaze.

The flames weren't even out before we were completely engulfed with inane attempts at Primark comedy. Tee-hee. This wasn't a devastating loss to built heritage and city centre trade, it was an unmissable opportunity to laugh ourselves silly.

Apparently, it's all perfectly acceptable because we got through the Troubles by making sick jokes, so it's okay to titter when a beautiful listed building goes up in smoke - along with hundreds of people's jobs.

Sniggering is also allowed because Primark sells the kind of clothes that a certain type of sneering, financially-secure hipster - the sort who has the time, leisure and rudimentary tech skills to make towering inferno memes - would never, ever buy.

That's why they don't give a stuff.

If Urban Outfitters or Marks & Spencer was wiped out, you wouldn't hear them tittering.

They'd be too worried about securing their supplies of vintage parkas and olive focaccias.

Forget the self-justificatory excuses. Laughing while Primark burns is an exercise in heartless, infantile narcissism. This has become the hallmark of the internet age.

There is no situation, however bleak - and thank God this one wasn't worse - that can't be treated as a platform for childishly needy attention-seekers to jump all over and shout "hey everyone, look at me!"

So what if other people, such as staff members at Primark, are left shocked, fearful and uncertain about how they are going to pay their bills? Doesn't matter. Just so long as the self-indulgent jokers get the hit of validation that they crave, that's all that counts.

And boy, will they not be thwarted. I noticed that anyone who stood up to the "comedians" on Twitter, and pointed out this was actually a pretty serious situation, not really suitable for the lolz, was immediately howled down, abused and excoriated as humourless harridans.

Let's count the real losses here. For a start, Bank Buildings itself, which housed the flagship store, is now a burnt-out, smouldering shell. Built in sandstone at the turn of the 19th century, this was one of our loveliest and most imposing structures.

I always enjoyed the sight of it, standing elegant, grand and proud as I walked up Castle Place towards Royal Avenue. It was in the final stages of a £30 million refurbishment. Now it may well have to be demolished.

Mourning its demise, Ulster Architectural Heritage said that the catastrophic fire is "the latest episode in the ongoing story of the cumulative loss of the heritage assets which are the soul of the city, and without which its unique sense of place cannot survive".

That's true. Yet this is about much more than the loss of a building, however significant. There is also the human cost. What will happen to the store's 350 employees now?

And what will be the wider effect on trade in the already struggling city centre, with the very heart of our town cordoned off as the authorities deal with the aftermath?

Every time I visited Primark it was absolutely packed, huge queues at the tills on every floor. Without the draw of that busy, high-turnover store, pulling shoppers in to the city like a giant magnet, other businesses are sure to suffer.

That's all bad enough. But it's the snobbishness about Primark that gets to me most. This was one of the very few places in town where people could buy genuinely affordable clothes, shoes and homeware.

True, serious questions have been raised about the budget chain's employment practices overseas. More recently it has been keen to reposition itself as an ethical retailer, moving towards greater transparency.

While there appears to be plenty of room for further improvement, the fact remains that for less well off shoppers in Belfast, people on very low incomes, Primark was a real lifeline.

That's why it's galling to see haughty, entitled fools who never struggled to pay for a T-shirt in their entire lives making stupid jokes about the total cost of fire-damaged stock in the Belfast store coming to no more than a tenner.

Chortle on, snobs. Enjoy getting your kicks sneering at the poor.

Feed your narcissism with other people's misfortune. Tell yourself you're doing it in the name of exploited factory-workers abroad.

And hope the day never comes when all you can afford is a pair of £3 trainers in Primark.

Belfast Telegraph

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